For many years, marijuana was considered as a dangerous drug. Prohibitions against marijuana were enacted as early as the 1930s, when the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act (1932) and the Marihuana Tax Act (1937) imposed restrictions on the trade and use of the plant. By 1970, marijuana was officially made an illegal substance through the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act (Siff). Under current federal law, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance. Schedule I substances are identified as drugs that have no accepted medical purpose and high potential for being abused (US Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA]). This resulted in the criminalization of trade, possession, or use of the substance for decades. The recent years, however, have witnessed the tide turn. Extensive research on the effects of marijuana is continually revealing surprising information that challenge even long-standing claims about the substance including the association between marijuana and drug abuse. Findings have also led to calls for legislation legalizing medical marijuana. The medical uses of marijuana, in particular, have been the subject of interest. As this essay will show, studies have uncovered how marijuana can be used in alleviating pain and anxiety, epilepsy, and symptoms of HIV and cancer.
One of the major areas that have received attention is the effect of marijuana on pain and anxiety. Pain is a very common symptom of illness. Not only is it frequently the first sign of a health condition but it may also persist throughout the duration of the illness. In many cases the presence of pain even extends well after the illness itself has subsided. Millions of people experience what is considered as chronic pain. However, a major study involving over 1,700 participants revealed that marijuana can be effective in alleviating pain. Out of these participants who were prescribed marijuana for their pain, around 82% had a positive response (Reinarman et al. 131). Research shows that medical marijuana can be useful for easing many types of pain. While its painkilling effect is not potent enough for severe pain such as that caused by extensive wounds or fractures, it has been shown to provide relief for mild to moderate chronic pain. Medical marijuana is in fact safer than opiates. Some of the conditions that medical marijuana alleviates are nerve pain, fibromyalgia, cystitis, and multiple sclerosis among others (Grinspoon, 2018). The finding just confirms not only previous studies but also the conventional assumption that marijuana can treat pain. Indeed, this plant was primarily considered as medicine throughout history, whereas using marijuana for recreation is a more recent application.
Apart from pain, marijuana can also relieve anxiety. Anxiety affects millions of people around the world. There are various types of anxiety and people experience it in different degrees. However, cannabis has been shown to have a positive effect on anxiety. In one study involving over 4,000 individuals, most participants reported that marijuana helped them cope with anxiety. These participants who come from various demographic groups used marijuana not only for recreational purposes but as a means to improve their mental health (O’Connell & Bou-Matar). Other studies have come to the same conclusion. A number of studies determined that low doses of marijuana compounds such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) eases social anxiety (Stoner). It is important to note that these studies show that marijuana is not just for relaxation. The calming effect it offers to people suffering from anxiety may have real health benefits. Severe cases of anxiety can be crippling, causing people to suffer disruptions in their lives and fail to reach optimal productivity. Its ability to ease anxiety therefore easily qualifies as a medical and mental health treatment for such conditions.
Marijuana also shows promise with regard to treating epilepsy. While there is a broad range of treatment available for epilepsy, such treatments are not always effective and patients who suffer from severe cases are left with few options. However, research suggests marijuana has a positive effect on this condition. A number of studies show favorable results in patients diagnosed with epilepsy who took marijuana products. In one famous case, a young patient who suffered around 50 seizures in one day showed dramatic improvement due to marijuana treatments. From dozens of seizures a day, the patient showed only 2-3 seizures per month (Maa and Figi 783-785).
Finally, marijuana has also been found out to help with maintaining nutritional status. Most people who use marijuana claim that the substance often enhances their appetite. This effect has now found application in the medical field. Studies show that marijuana helps prevent muscle wasting that typically occurs in patients with HIV and those who undergo chemotherapy. It also eases nausea and vomiting that prevent patients from taking in food, thus enabling continuous nutritional intake (Mack and Joy 87-90).
Taking into account these findings, it is evident that marijuana is far from being a Schedule I substance. Whereas its current status perpetuated the belief that it has no benefits whatsoever, a wealth of research has gradually uncovered the medical purposes it can provide to millions of patients. Studies have confirmed that it can be used to address a variety of conditions including pain, anxiety, epilepsy, HIV, and side effects of chemotherapy among others. With that being said, it is just as well for society to continue studying marijuana. After all, that marijuana has positive impact on health conditions does not necessarily mean that it does not have negative effects. Many fundamental issues including whether it promotes drug abuse are yet to be conclusively settled. Nevertheless, the great potential that marijuana has shown is more than enough reason to continue with the research.
Grinspoon, Peter. “Medical marijuana.” Harvard Health Publishing, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/medical-marijuana-2018011513085. Accessed 3 February 2021.
Maa, Edward and Paige Figi. “The case for medical marijuana in epilepsy.” Epilepsia, vol. 55, no. 6, pp. 783-6. doi: 10.1111/epi.12610
Mack, Alison and Janet Joy. Marijuana as Medicine?: The Science Behind the Controversy. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US), 2000, doi:10.17226/9586
Reinarman, Craig, Helen Nunberg, Fran Lanthier, and Tom Heddleston. “Who are medical marijuana patients? Population characteristics from nine California assessment clinics.” Psychoactive Drugs, vol. 43, no. 2, 2011, pp. 128-35. doi: 10.1080/02791072.2011.587700
O’Connell, Thomas J. and Che B. Bou-Matar, C. “Long term marijuana users seeking medical cannabis in California (2001–2007): demographics, social characteristics, patterns of cannabis and other drug use of 4117 applicants.” Harm Reduction Journal, vol. 4, no. 16, 2007. doi: 10.1186/1477-7517-4-16
Siff, Stephen. “The Illegalization of Marijuana: A Brief History.” Origins, vol. 4, no. 8, 2014. https://origins.osu.edu/article/illegalization-marijuana-brief-history
Stoner, Sharon A. “Effects of marijuana on mental health: anxiety disorders.” Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute. https://adai.uw.edu/pubs/pdf/2017mjanxiety.pdf. Accessed 3 February 2021.
US Drug Enforcement Administration. “Drug Scheduling.” https://www.dea.gov/drug-scheduling. Accessed 3 February 2021.